PROGRESSIVE PERSPECTIVE: Call it a coup in Bolivia


Juan Karita | Associated Press

Anti-government protesters against the reelection of President Evo Morales, attend a rally with the coca leaf growers in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. The United Nations on Thursday urged Bolivia’s government and opposition to restore “dialogue and peace” after a third person was killed in street clashes that erupted after a disputed presidential election on Oct. 20.

If the recent happenings in Bolivia do not constitute a coup d’état, it is difficult to imagine a scenario that would.

Nevertheless, corporate media outlets across the U.S. have unanimously avoided calling a coup a coup in Bolivia.

The dictionary definition of a coup is: “a sudden, violent and illegal seizure of power from a government.”

In recent weeks, army generals in Bolivia have broadcast on national television their demands for the resignation and arrest of the country’s democratically elected president, Evo Morales. Morales resigned Nov. 10 amid threats from military and police forces and violent right-wing protestors who have since been applauded in lockstep by the U.S. government and corporate media alike.

Portrayals of the reality in Bolivia by U.S. media have been deeply flawed, depravedly irresponsible and dangerously inaccurate. These reports rely entirely on false allegations of election fraud started by Morales’ opponent in the election, Carlos Mesa.

Considering the complex nature of the ways votes are counted and released to the public in Bolivian elections—and elections in countries throughout South America—it is understandable that a casual spectator may be confused or skeptical of the results, especially in a race won by an incumbent by such a slim margin, but journalists ought to be informed experts, not casual spectators.

Election results in Bolivia are released in two counts, the first called the quick count and the latter the official count. This process is outlined by the majority U.S.-funded Organization of American States that observes elections and provides guidance for improvements to South American countries. The objective of the quick count is to provide media outlets and concerned citizens with a basis upon which to predict likely results.

As the quick count started to reveal the likelihood of a Morales victory, Mesa’s camp began to inexplicably claim the results actually showed an “unquestionable victory” for his own campaign. Such claims were never rooted in reality, nor were his later claims that the quick count had guaranteed “with certainty that [he] made it into a second round.”

In Bolivian presidential elections, if no candidate wins the initial vote by more than 10%, the election goes to a decisive second round. As the quick count approached 85% of votes counted, the results showed Morales at about 46% and Mesa at about 38%, but, again, the quick count is only that—a quick, inconclusive count for reporters to provide to the public a general idea of likely results.

At this point, Bolivia’s election authority, sensing a dangerous controversy in the making, stopped the quick count and planned to release the official results when all votes had been counted.

In a tweet following the events described, Kevin Cashman of The Center for Economic and Policy Research explained that, “in nationwide races, the quick [count] never has gotten to 100%. It’s hard to count rural votes in that timeframe.”

There never was any reason for Mesa—or anyone else familiar with South American politics—to expect the inconclusive quick count to continue until every vote was counted. Nevertheless, without an explanation of exactly why—though one can reasonably assume that corporate media reports uncritically parroting claims of fraud initiated by Mesa’s camp played a significant role—the OAS eventually released a statement claiming Morales’ quick-count lead of 11% (48% to 37%) with 96% of votes counted was an “inexplicable change in trend that drastically modified the fate of the election.”

Thus, mainstream media reporters and corporate politicians repeating unproven conspiracies of election fraud found official validation for their claims—claims still unsupported by any substantial evidence.

On Nov. 8, the CEPR released a statistical analysis of the election results and concluded that, “Contrary to a postelection narrative that was supported, without evidence, by the OAS Electoral Observation Mission, statistical analysis shows that it was predictable that Morales would obtain a first-round win, based on the results of the first 83.85 percent of votes in a rapid count that showed Morales leading runner-up Carlos Mesa by less than 10 points.”

The election results were not only apparently accurate but also entirely predictable based on prior election results and Morales’ core base of support coming from rural communities whose votes are largely absent from the quick count and last to be counted in the official count. This dynamic is similar to several in American politics, an example being that a Democratic candidate’s percentage of votes will likely experience a significant spike as results from states such as California are reported.

“There is simply no statistical or evidentiary basis to dispute the vote count results showing that Evo Morales won in the first round,” CEPR senior policy analyst, Guillaume Long, said.

President Morales and his administration won the election by a count of 47.08% to 36.51% and agreed to participate in a prospective repeat election overseen by independent entities but were nevertheless overthrown by a violent, right-wing, U.S.-backed military coup.

Morales’ home has since been ransacked as members of his administration have been kidnapped and tortured. Meanwhile, corporate media have accomplished little more than further undermining their already damaged credibility amongst a skeptical American public keen to criticize any and all errors as “Fake News.”

Journalists ought to be principled truth-tellers dedicated to holding each other accountable for our mistakes rather than to practicing obedient, senseless groupthink we so often denounce in others while demonizing anyone willing to criticize the evident failures of mainstream media.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].